IMG_0732We all have different ways to view the world around us. Chefs tend to work more than many other people and have difficulty decompressing when they do get a chance to have some personal time. The complexity of their position leads chefs to see the world through the eyes of the restaurant. This is a synopsis of how things line up through their eyes:

As much as chefs would like to separate vendors from the products they want and need, it is difficult to do so. Chefs realize their primary job is to buy the best possible ingredients to ensure the opportunity exists to create great dishes. In most cases, chefs would prefer to deal directly with the farmer or producer, but due to time constraints and distribution challenges they are forced to do business with vendors. There are some that are great; vendors who appreciate their role as a provider, respect the ingredients as much as the chef, understand the pressure their clients are under to be profitable and focus on service above all else. Unfortunately, experience demonstrates that many vendors do not understand their role and cannot be trusted to deliver on the promise. This drives chefs absolutely crazy.
The kitchen is the chefs real home. He or she spends more time here than at the address where they receive personal mail. As much as people strive to protect their homes, take pride in how it looks, and want to own what takes place within the walls that encompass it, there are far too many people walking in and out to maintain this level of ownership. This drives chefs absolutely crazy.
Just like in any serious organization, the uniform becomes a symbol of membership, a sense of pride, a representation of all who wear it now and all who wore it in the past. The chef takes pride in the uniforms cleanliness, crisp ironing, embroidered name, designated position and general condition. When others do not wear the uniform properly it drives chefs absolutely crazy (starting to see a pattern here?).
The plate of food presented in the dining room is more than its components. The plate of food is much more than flavor, aroma, and texture. The plate of food is a representation of the restaurant and most importantly the chef as a professional. Whether the chef is present and involved in the preparation of that dish or not is irrelevant. Every plate of food presented in the dining room is a representation of the chef and his or her reputation. It is as if each plate leaves the kitchen with the chef’s signature. Pride in food is what gives the chef a sense of worth and what keeps he or she up at night.
Chefs typically view other restaurants in a different way than owners. Chefs view each restaurant as a member of the same club. Chefs are really only in competition with their own standards. A chef knows if he or she meets the standards of excellence established by any professional, then the operation will receive support from paying guests. When we try to compete with other restaurants and view them as adversaries, we lose a bit of our culinary soul.
The owner has a list of goals that are sometimes, but not always in sync with those of the chef. Chefs, typically do not make the best owners, simply because they are far more focused on the product and the people and less so on accounting for a profitable business. If the owner has the business savvy and complements the chef who understands how to create the experience, then the relationship will be strong and beneficial. Far too many times owners and chefs lock horns over a lack of willingness to find common ground.
This is the chef’s family. The success of the restaurant depends on the cohesiveness and competence of this group. Chefs will invest more time on selecting, training, teaching, coaching, evaluating and weeding out staff members than anything else. Each cook, dishwasher, butcher, baker and pastry chef is integral to the restaurants efficient operation. Great chefs know how to set the stage for staff members to self-motivate, they learn to listen like a parent; they have high standards and expectations but have enough empathy to understand the challenges each individual brings to the table. Nothing is more important to the chef than his or her team.
There is a long history of organization in a kitchen. An organization that is based on a military model of command that spreads responsibility among the team while insisting on a communication chain, ensuring success. It is a proven model that given the timing and complexity of operating a busy kitchen is necessary. Chefs expect and yes, demand, following the chain of command. Upsetting this kitchen order can cause chaos, bringing down the best restaurant. “Yes chef,” is the rule.
We all cherish having friends, people who are there for us; they have our back and our best interests at heart. Unfortunately, chefs have little time outside of work for sustainable friendships and even though being friendly with your staff is the right policy, becoming friends with them can backfire at some point. In the end, chefs can be lonely people.
It is quite common for cooks and chefs to fail to see the importance of the service staff. Many cooks view the service staff as the problem, rather than understanding the significant role they play in building and retaining customers. The chef must be the liaison between front and back of the house. Part of the chef’s job is to educate both sides about the value each group provides and put out fires when they start to blaze. Chefs know how important the service staff is to the guest experience.
There is an established adage in business, “The customer is always right.” The chef understands the premise, but knows the guest isn’t always right; in fact, they are oftentimes wrong. When a cook rises to the level of chef it becomes important to understand that even when a customer is wrong, they are right. Our job is to serve. The only exception is when guests are rude or condescending to staff members. When this happens, every chef and manager should have the authority to fire a guest. The Ritz Carlton Hotel Group has it right when they state as part of their credo: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” Both parties have a responsibility in this regard.
Simply said, the lowest form of human life. Critics, unlike a balanced reviewer, are far too often, people who do not have the skills or knowledge to do what you do, but love to criticize others for doing it in a way they don’t agree with. Too many people listen to critics without giving the restaurant a chance to demonstrate what their food and service is all about. Unfortunately, with the advent of social media sites, everyone can be a critic and express their opinion to thousands with a click of the mouse. This drives chefs crazy.
Chefs depend on a steady stream of interns and graduates to fill the gaps in their kitchen team. Most chefs I know would agree they wish these students were better prepared for the reality of the kitchen. What a chef seeks in a student is commitment, professionalism, dependability, solid foundational cooking skills, impeccable sanitation, a willingness to learn, patience, respect and an understanding of teamwork.
Every chef I know expresses a desire to have more time for family, yet either the position or their own relentless commitment to excellence always gets in the way. Without a strong family to celebrate a chefs wins and console him or her when things go south, the chef will be incomplete. This is the downfall of many talented folks in the kitchen.
The world outside doesn’t understand the kitchen and the kitchen doesn’t understand those who are “normal.” The daily crisis on CNN happens, but the chef has more immediate things to worry about. Chefs tend to be oblivious to anyone and anything that doesn’t involve food.

The world does look different through a chef’s eyes.


Harvest America Ventures, LLC

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About Me

PAUL SORGULE is a seasoned chef, culinary educator, established author, and industry consultant. These are his stories of cooks, chefs, and the environment of the professional kitchen.


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